Excerpts from the Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

February 22, 2017

Death of Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin

As you know, Vitaly Churkin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and an outstanding diplomat, died suddenly on February 20, a day before he would have turned 65.

Vitaly Churkin was born in Moscow on February 21, 1952.

He graduated from MGIMO University of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and devoted his life to diplomatic service, rising from an assistant at the ministry’s translations department to Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York.

Churkin held various posts at the Soviet Embassy in the United States, the international affairs department of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee and the Foreign Minister’s Secretariat. He was Head of the Foreign Ministry’s Information Department in 1990-1992 and Deputy Foreign Minister in 1992-1994.

He was Russia’s Ambassador to Belgium in 1994-1998 and to Canada in 1998-2003. In 2003-2006, he had the rank of Ambassador at Large and was appointed Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in New York in April 2006.

Vitaly Churkin had many state decorations, including the Order of Honour, the Order For Services to the Fatherland (4th Class) and the Order of Alexander Nevsky. The President of Russia has awarded Vitaly Churkin the Order of Courage (posthumously).

We will always remember Vitaly Churkin as an outstanding diplomat and speaker and a consummate negotiator. Throughout his long diplomatic career, he protected Russia’s interests brilliantly in all areas of his difficult job, doing this with unmatched ingenuity and demonstrating the ability to reach compromises in the most critical situations. He represented Russia at the UN for nearly 11 years, working at the forefront of foreign policy events and showing all of us an example of selfless service to the nation. His openness and sincerity earned him the respect of diplomats, politicians and everyone else who had the good luck to work with him or make his acquaintance.

We are mourning the death of Vitaly Churkin together with his family and loved ones.

I would like to tell you that as soon as the news about Mr Churkin’s death became public knowledge we started receiving condolences at the Foreign Ministry, the Permanent Mission to the UN and other Russian offices abroad. We are receiving hundreds of letters from Mr Churkin’s former colleagues, heads of country missions to the UN, ambassadors, politicians, business people and journalists who knew or worked with him. Thousands of people who did not know Vitaly Churkin personally have sent us their messages of condolence and published commemoration posts in the social media. We are grateful to everyone who is mourning our loss as their own. I would like you to know that all information, letters and other support messages sent to the Foreign Ministry will be forwarded to Vitaly Churkin’s family.

On February 20, members of the UN General Assembly observed a minute of silence to honour Vitaly Churkin. On February 21, all Council members with the exception of the Ukrainian representative spoke at the first part of the UN Security Council’s open session that was devoted to the memory of Vitaly Churkin. The UN General Assembly plans to hold a special session in memory of the late Russian Representative to the UN. A condolence book will be available at the Russian Permanent Mission to the UN from February 21 to 23. The first entries in this book were made by the CIS ambassadors and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Today, on February 22 the personnel of the Permanent Mission and senior officials of the diplomatic corps and the UN Secretariat will pay their last respects to Vitaly Churkin. Later the same day, the body will be sent to Russia by a regular Russian aviation flight and will be accompanied by his relatives. The plane will arrive in Moscow on February 23.

It has been tentatively planned that the funeral ceremonies in Moscow, during which the Russian people will be able to pay their last tribute to Vitaly Churkin, will be held on February 24. We will update you on the precise timeframe and venue.

Also, I would like to say a few words about the media leaks in the United States regarding investigation into the causes of the Russian ambassador’s death, about which we learned late at night by Moscow time yesterday. We believe that this information should be provided to the Russian side primarily through official channels, for subsequent delivery to the family of the deceased. The family must be able to learn about the post mortem results before anyone else.

As I said, we hope that our American partners will fully honour their obligations and we will not have to learn such information as this from media leaks. We will update you on the official information we receive from our partners.

Answers to media questions:
Question: It has been reported that Yemeni rebels have called on Russia to join the group of international intermediaries on the settlement of the conflict in Yemen. The group includes the United States, Great Britain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. How can Russian diplomats contribute to the settlement process?

Maria Zakharova: Russian diplomats are involved in the efforts to settle the crisis in Yemen during regular bilateral contacts and at international organisations. We regularly update you on this issue.

Question: What do you think about the US plans for safe zones in Syria?

Maria Zakharova: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently spoke on this issue. I have nothing more to say at this point. Our position on this issue has been put forth by the Foreign Minister.

Question: The US authorities believe the situation in Afghanistan is very tense and the number of US servicemen there should be increased. What is your opinion of that? Will the enlarged military contingent help to improve the situation in Afghanistan?

Maria Zakharova: We keep returning to the situation in Afghanistan practically at every briefing. The situation is indeed complicated, we are witnessing terrorist activities, and we call for the necessary political process in that country. Apart from declarations, intense diplomatic work is being done in that direction by the Russian Foreign Ministry, meetings were held recently on this issue, including expanded format meetings. This shows the situation is undoubtedly complicated. We gave an assessment of the US role in ensuring Afghanistan’s security and combating terrorism in that country. We cannot assess the role the US has played for many years, as they say, in establishing peaceful life in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism, as successful. We also voiced our direct complaints. Unfortunately, there is also a clear tendency present here. In the past decades we have seen the same picture over and over again, when Washington would declare plans to democratise certain regions or to bring order there, or establish peace, or to fight terrorism, and afterwards, without resolving the designated tasks, Washington would just abandon those regions and countries to their fate while it was addressing new tasks it had set forth.

You know that the UN force has been operating in Afghanistan. A UNSC mandate was issued for everything that was going on there. Just recall how many times the Russian Federation used to call the forces that stayed there under the UN mandate to report to the UN Security Council on the accomplished work. As you know, our calls remained unanswered. Throughout all those years that were spent by the coalition to bring order to Afghanistan, the UNSC, which issued the mandate, was never informed and notified of the results of that work.

This is how we view this problem. We will regularly give our assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, while also dealing with this issue within the existing formats.